What You’ll Watch
The Sounders hit the road once again in this young season, and they will have their first rematch of the season. Seattle will look to return the favor and ruin Los Angeles Football Club’s home opener. LAFC won the first meeting between the two teams back on opening day thanks to Diego Rossi’s goal early in the first half.
LAFC are near the top of the West with a record of 4-2-0 (12 points in six games played; 2 ppg. The Sounders are still at the bottom of the West, but are no longer the worst team in the league, with a record of 1-3-1 (4 points in 5 games played; 0.8 ppg).
In their most recent matches, LAFC came back from a 2-0 deficit against the Montreal Impact and won convincingly 5-3 north of the border, while the Sounders picked up their first win of the season with their 3-1 victory over Minnesota United FC.
A Look at the Enemy
Last Five: W-L-L-W-W with 15 goals scored and 13 conceded
Top Scorer: Carlos Vela, five goals
Top Assist Leader: Marco Urena, five assists
Injuries, Suspensions, International Duty
LAFC: The new kids on the block only have one player listed on the injury report. Luis Lopez (right tibial stress fracture) is listed as out.
Seattle: Both Jordan Morris (right ACL tear) and Harry Shipp (right ankle sprain) are listed as out for this match. Waylon Francis (right hamstring strain), Kim Kee-Hee (right calf strain), Chad Marshall (neck sprain) and Victor Rodriguez (right knee sprain) are all listed as questionable per MLS.
Rodriguez made the 18 last week, so I expect the same this weekend unless he has a major setback before kickoff.
Referee: Kevin Stott
AR1: Brian Poeschel
AR2: Cameron Blanchard
4th: Baldomero Toledo
VAR: Alex Chilowicz
What to Watch
LAFC’s system: we’re now a few weeks into the season, and a discernible lineup has fleshed out for Bob Bradley’s LAFC side. What hasn’t been as static — this is pretty fun! — is his formation: he’s used anything from a 4-2-3-1, to a 3-5-2, to a 3-4-3 (the latter working well against the toothless and direct offenses of Vancouver and Montreal). It seems likely that he’ll revert to a formation more keyed into controlling width, given the Sounders’ intense desire to attack via the wings and channels.
The key point in Bradley’s 4-2-3-1 is in the aging Benny Feilhaber sliding back into a deep-lying playmaker role; not quite a defensive midfielder, but certainly not the pressing CAM he once was. Really, this positional choice is pivotal to most of what they aim to do, allowing Mark-Anthony Kaye (who has shown very well in his first MLS season) the freedom to focus on destroying attacks up the middle and trying to save the back line from itself (he’s also done a bang-up job helping flip and keep possession, with an 86% passing rate).
There’s no doubt LAFC can score goals incredibly well, and my preseason pick of Carlos Vela for league MVP is looking pretty good right now. Everyone in the main attacking four has been doing a wonderful job, integrating quickly with each other and the league. The team sits in the top 25% of the league in a number of traditional statistical categories (e.g., shots, shots on goal, dribbles per game), and also find themselves in the same company in xG (which closely parallels their actual number of goals scored). It also has allowed them to put four players in the top 20 in expected goal chain (xGC; an explanation of this stat can be found here), which is impressive for any team, never mind an expansion one.
What they don’t do well is defend. Certainly the need for familiarity means there is a steeper road to success on the defensive side, but the back four has not been great, and Tyler Miller hasn’t exactly been the world-beater he was in week one in Seattle. None of their defenders are straight up bad, but there are clear communication issues and positional confusion that are leading to looks far more open than they should be.
Weather the storm — LAFC will be emotional to start; don’t let it overwhelm, look for mistakes from overplay and exploit them.
Chase the space — forcing communication decisions by defenders will help open space. Use the short passes the team relies on for possession to attack these openings and create opportunities.
Work together — The 30-45 minutes of cohesive football we saw against Minnesota needs to be expanded upon. Reap the benefits of another week of near-full health and practice to find in-game synergies. That’s right, synergies.
Try, try, try again — With LAFC’s poor goals against record, Seattle needs to test Miller early, often, and relentlessly. LAFC have looked particularly vulnerable to headers and second balls; push forward enough for Will Bruin to get deep in the box and he will have a good opportunity to make an impact.
How to Watch
Date & Time: Sunday, April 29, 6:00 PM PT
Location: Banc of California Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
TV: FOX Sports 1, FOX Deportes
Streaming: YouTube TV
Radio: KJR 950 AM (English), El Rey 1350 AM (Spanish)